Pawhuska High School sophomore Lance Harden was among 50 students selected to participate in the University of Oklahoma College of Engineering’s BP Summer Academy. The camp sparks interest in STEM careers by giving high schoolers hands-on experience in a variety of engineering fields.
Harden participated in activities like building and racing solar-powered boats and examining life-saving medical devices.
Most aspiring engineers from high schools across the region came to the BP camps with a particular engineering interest. But after attending lectures, meeting engineers and receiving hands-on experience in a variety of engineering subfields, many of the students left the camp eager to explore multiple engineering subfields.
“It’s always exciting to see kids start camp with one idea of engineering and leave with a broader understanding of how it is interrelated in all parts of our lives,” said Lance Lobban, director of the OU’s Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering and Francis W. Winn Chair. “Sometimes the camps raise more questions than answers,” chuckled Lobban.
Research shows that exposing teens to real-world, firsthand engineering experience and interactions with professional engineers more than doubles career interest in the field. With a projected engineering gap in the workforce, the camps are a good way to get students considering engineering before they enter college.
Tafara Cameron, director of BP Engineering Academy, said early exposure is especially important within women and minorities. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women and minorities represent less than 10 percent of practicing engineers.
“This leaves the industry not only with a shortage of engineers, but also a lack of diversity critical for complex problem solving,” said Cameron. “While the camps consider all applications, we highly encourage minorities and women to apply.”
Current global issues like biomedical care for an aging population and alternative energy were a few of the issues presented at the BP summer engineering camps.
In the mechanical engineering lab, students learned how engineering expertise can be used to address the global energy crisis. The students designed, constructed and raced solar-powered boats to demonstrate the important role that engineers play in addressing global issues.
“We want students to gain an appreciation for the ways materials can be formulated and designed to solve problems,” explained Lobban. “Seeing the complexity of the issues and the potential for success through collaboration gives students a head start on tackling issues facing their generation.”
The week-long camps culminated with a cardboard boat race at the OU Swim Complex. Students from different camps were placed into teams at the beginning of the week and tasked to design and construct a boat to race at the end of the week. The aim of this activity was to teach the importance of working effectively in teams of diverse people.
While the camp’s introduction to the diversity of engineering subfields and interesting career opportunities caused many students to broaden rather than narrow their interests, it fueled their commitment to becoming engineers.